You’re shaping future female leaders who will smash expectations and change the world—that is, if they could just focus on this week's troop activity.
No matter which level of Girl Scouts you lead and where, some experiences, like friend cliques or seeming cell phone addiction, are more common than others. But at which point do you intervene? And if you're a new troop leader, you might wonder how to intervene; do you call out a problematic behavior? Let the girls sort out an issue among themselves?
Rest assured, troop leader, you’re not alone in navigating these experiences. Our volunteer experts have seen it all and shared how they resolved some common challenges as troop leaders.
Sometimes a five-minute meeting welcome is five minutes too many, especially for Daisy and Brownie troop leaders. “At the Daisy level, we ran into a lot of attention span issues,” says Kara Johnson, a Brownie troop leader from Girl Scouts of Western Ohio. “We just learned early on that it worked best to break up the meeting into ten-minute increments, so the girls didn't have to sit still too long. It also helped break the girls up into smaller groups when working on projects and have an adult assist with each group.”
"My girls wanted to run around their school lunchroom during our meeting time,” remembers Trina Floyd, a Junior troop leader from Girl Scouts of Western Ohio. “I had to be careful in my response because some girls are uncomfortable being corrected by an adult they hardly know. I suggest not calling out single names when corralling those who have strayed from the task, but to instead find a call and response such as ‘Hey, hey, Girl Scouts,’ that they respond to with ‘Hey, hey, Ms. Floyd.’ The best thing for my girls was for me to pay attention to when they needed a break and adjust the plans as needed.”
The girls in your troop may not all be best friends, and that’s OK. But watching some girls repeatedly exclude other girls from activities? That’s definitely not in the spirit of sisterhood!
Unfortunately, clubby behavior is a normal part of growing up, but there are a few things you can do to encourage your girls to play fair and respect one another.
"We have the girls work in groups or we pair them up; we don’t allow them to pick their groups or partners,” explains Kara. “To make it fair, they count off by number or use the Popsicle sticks to be placed in groups. This way some of the girls who may consistently be left out have the opportunity to work with the other girls, and often, once some of them have one-on-one time, they become closer.”
“Something we’ve tried is sitting in our friendship circle and talking about it,” says Cheryl Lentsch, an Ambassador troop leader from Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska. “We never mention specific names of the girls who are being excluded or the girls who are causing the difficulties, but we discuss how someone in our troop isn’t feeling included in a particular way. We remind the girls that we’re all Girl Scout sisters and go through the parts of the Girl Scout Promise and Law that apply to the situation. We remain calm and don’t raise our voices. Afterward everyone seems to understand that they need to be kinder and more accepting of each other."
Learning to Lead
Each girl comes to Girl Scouting at a different point in her leadership journey, and some may need a little extra support to discover their inner leader. So how do you help those girls build their confidence and learn to overcome obstacles?
“The biggest challenge with my Daisies came from girls who were used to being ‘winners’ at everything—those who were upset when they didn’t win and refused to try new things for fear of failure,” explains Nancy Fink, a Cadette troop leader from Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana. “We ended up doing something pretty simple—praising the ‘try’ publicly and the ‘win’ personally. The girls are very good at congratulating fellow winners; all they needed from the adults was a quiet high-five and a personal comment on the accomplishment. The girls followed suit and became each other's cheerleaders when trying new things.”
“My Brownies became challenging as their ability to be independent diverged,” Nancy continues. “Some girls were being given some independence at home and school and others weren’t, and those differences showed up in how the troop tackled activities. Some were very comfortable being given jobs to do and others needed constant attention and problem-solving help. We divided the troop into teams that included at least one girl comfortable with independence. When other girls gave up too quickly or acted like they needed hand-holding, we referred them back to the ‘team lead.’ The girls who were used to constant guidance became better problem solvers, and those already comfortable with some independence became better leaders.”
Whatsapp with girls using their phones during a troop meeting? If it seems like you can’t get through a meeting without girls messaging their friends, bring the issue directly to the girls.
“When some of our troop girls became Cadettes, many of them suddenly began bringing their cell phones to meetings,” says Cheryl. “We had frank discussions about it. We discussed that the girls had some time to use their phones outside of meetings and class but to get things done in the short time we had together, we would need to keep our cell phones put away during meetings. [To keep the conversation girl-led], the girls decided they still wanted their phones out and accessible, but they would look at them only occasionally.”
And if your girl still struggles to stick to the rules you’ve both agreed to, even after you’ve confronted the issue? It might be time to talk with her family. Ask her parent or caregiver if she’s going through something at home—like the arrival of a new sibling or moving to a new neighborhood—or if she wants a break from Girl Scouting. Families are on your team, and if you approach them from a caring and empathetic point of view, they’re more likely to be open with you and work to resolve the issue.
Remember that these behaviors and challenges—among many others—aren’t a reflection on your leadership skills! By meeting your girls where they are and understanding where they’re coming from, you'll be the supportive troop leader and positive role model they need.